Symptoms of this illness that warrant a doctor visit include fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, as well as the loss of appetite.

Is the dependent clause "that warrant a doctor visit" is referring to the subject illness or Symptoms. What is the correct verb to use for this dependent clause?


Grammar is the servant of meaning.

If the illness, regardless of manifestations, deserves examination by a physician, then "warrants" is the proper word. So cancer warrants attention by a doctor regardless of signs or symptoms.

If the manifestations, regardless of cause, deserve treatment by a physician, then "warrant" is the proper word. So a prolonged hemorrhage and simultaneous high fever warrant attention by a doctor regardless of etiology.

In the example sentence, what seems to be of importance are plural manifestations, and so "warrant" is the grammatical choice given what seems to be the intended meaning.

By the way, if you are trying to be precise, the manifestations mentioned in your example are signs rather than symptoms.

  • @JasonBassford There is no rule of grammar saying that a dependent clause can modify only the subject of the independent clause or cannot modify the object of a preposition. Grammar alone cannot determine whether "that" refers to "symptoms" or "illness," and so grammar alone cannot determine whether "warrants" or "warrant" is correct. One must look to what appears to be the thought conveyed by the sentence as a whole. The list of signs determines that "that" refers to "symptoms." – Jeff Morrow Jan 24 '19 at 18:16

Symptoms of this illness that warrant a doctor visit

You won't think you are sick unless you experience symptoms.

You won't go to the doctor unless you think you are sick.

If we were talking about a periodic checkup, we would not be talking about symptoms.

Symptoms therefore has to be the antecedent of that - therefore plural.

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